[UPDATE: If you haven’t seen Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments in their original context, follow this link.]
Each church has a unique context, with members who have particular needs and points of view. Trinity UCC has, since its inception, been one of the most honest churches I can think of in living the gospel and meeting the needs of the greater community on the south side of Chicago (read: low-income black folks, a community that has historically borne the brunt of America’s oppression). Depending on the circumstances that have brought folks to their point of need, “God damn America” can represent a liberating theological notion for those who have been harmed by America – or by the conflation of God/America like we’ve seen following September 11.
The powerful subtext behind “God damn America” is first and foremost that God is NOT America, and does not necessarily bless us just for being Americans. Depending on where you’ve come from, these can be liberating words that can lead people from despair, to God. As a pastor, Rev. Wright’s job at the pulpit isn’t to be politically correct, or to be safe, or comforting, or to not make waves or step on toes, but it is to declare the salvation of God – as effectively as possible, – for the folks who need to hear it. And if you listen to the tiny decontextualized video snippets of any of these “controversial” sermons, you will hear that Rev. Wright’s words deeply resonated with those who were there to hear them.
All I’m saying is, we – and by “we” I’m talking to outraged middle class folks who are so offended by Rev. Wright’s comments that they’re considering not voting for Obama as a result – we must realize that our self righteousness is not necessarily universal. It may well be crazy and indefensible for the pastor of our churches to preach “God damn America,” but then again, context is everything, isn’t it? (Yes, it is.)
Many are now asking, what does this say about Obama, and the emphasis that he has put on our national unity?
To me, it says that he has spent 20 years working in a church that has been a vibrant, saving institution for many low-income black folks in Chicago.
It says that Obama views the gospel message as one that requires adherence to God AND neighbor, just as Jesus commands.
Finally, it says that Obama, who has been through his own share of difficult times, has also spent his life meeting people at their point of need, without losing his optimism for the future of America.
And that is a candidate – and a faith perspective – that I can get behind.